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Joe Sova ().
Joe Sova ().

If Oregon had preseason No. 1 Southern Cal on its football schedule this season, the Ducks' intensity would be building up to that big game. But the Ducks and Trojans don't meet this season, and the Nov. 6 road game against Cal is the one highlighted on Oregon's schedule.

That will be the Ducks' sixth of eight Pac-10 games and the winner could boast an unbeaten conference record as USC is expected to do.

Oregon strengthened it nonconference schedule in a big way, adding second-ranked Oklahoma and dropping Nevada. That Oregon-Sooners game in the second on the Ducks' schedule, set for Sept. 18 in Norman.

The Ducks are picked to finish third in the Pac-10, behind USC and Cal. They're ranked 23rd in the Associated Press preseason poll and 24th in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll. If the rankings went that far, Oregon State would be 27th in the coaches' poll and 33rd in the AP poll.

Cal is highly regarded. The Golden Bears are ranked 13th by AP and 15th in the coaches' poll.

AP's preseason top 10: USC, Oklahoma, Georgia, Louisiana State, Florida State, Miami, Texas, Michigan, Ohio State and West Virginia. The top 10 in the coaches' poll: USC, Oklahoma, LSU, Georgia, Miami, FSU, Michigan, Texas, Ohio State and Florida.

The predicted order of finish in the Pac-10: USC, Cal, Oregon, Arizona State, Washington State, Oregon State, Washington, UCLA, Arizona and Stanford.

USC takes a double-dip into the Mountain West Conference after the Trojans' opener today against Virginia Tech, hosting Colorado State and playing at Brigham Young before league play begins. Tech is usually a tough foe for everyone, but the Hokies return only nine starters.

According to College Football News, Oregon has no excuse for not having a big year, since the Ducks don't have USC on the schedule. The publication said Oregon could very well have a 7-1 start. That loss would be to Oklahoma, but who knows what will happen in week 2? As they say, "that why they play the game."

College Football News says Oregon's strength is it defensive line, but the Ducks will be weak in the secondary. They say the star of the team will be junior receiver Demetrius Williams. A key game is Oct. 30 at Eugene against Washington, the week before the Ducks play at Cal.

Oregon State quarterback Derek Anderson must reduce his mistakes, the CFN said. But who will catch his passes? The Beavers are expected to be strong defensively, led by senior end Bill Swancutt.

Junior quarterback Matt Leinart could lead USC to a national title game berth. The Trojans' fortune might depend a bit on whether star receiver Mike Williams plays.

Oklahoma is ranked second because the Sooners have 10 starters returning on offense, which could be even better than a year ago. Add newcomer Adrian Peterson to carry the ball and Oklahoma will chew up lot of yardage. Senior Mark Clayton is a quality receiver.

There is always a lot of hype before the college football season begins. But it's who is in the Bowl Championship Series picture come late November that counts. The means to determine a national champion has improved over the last decade, but in my opinion the only way to guarantee a clear-cut champ is with a playoff system. However, that may never come and we'll keep ending the season with controversy.

Joe Sova is The Observer sports editor.

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